Byzantine

...And They Shall Take Up Serpents

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Quickly moving to capitalize on the momentum attained by their impressive, but somewhat stylistically scattered debut, West Virginian prog-metal mavericks Byzantine set to work fine-tuning their complex sound with 2005's biblically named sophomore album, ...And They Shall Take Up Serpents -- but without renouncing the compositional risk-taking that had set them apart in the first place. This, most observers would agree, was accomplished by cutting out the genre-hopping fat; including any vestigial nu metal nonsense (as that movement was thankfully finally falling out of favor) and gratuitous dynamic mood swings (oftentimes more shocking than actually effective), so that Byzantine's distinctive penchant for matching Pantera's grooves with Meshuggah's polyrhythms could forge an optimum foundation for their increasingly stunning instrumental adventures. Amazingly, these changes made Serpents not only better, but, on the whole, even more brutal than its predecessor; consistently yielding violently syncopated riff sequences as thick as granite blocks, 'round which the band's gifted twin guitarists, Chris Ojeda and Tony Rohrbough, could then spin endless vines of spine-tingling leads and harmonies (see "Ancestry of the Antichrist," for a perfect example) -- as serpentine as the album's title suggested. Similarly, vocalist Ojeda decided to use his already much improved melodic singing far more sparingly this time around (although he really lets it loose on the album-best "Jeremiad"), choosing instead to alternate between raw (but always in tune) screams, guttural growls, or harsh, Anselmo-like howls, more often than not. Even the unforeseen necessity of recording the album as a trio (due to the recent departure of bassist Chris Adams) apparently posed no special challenge, since guitarist Rohrbough simply added four-string duties to his primary six. And thus, ...And They Shall Take Up Serpents solidified Byzantine's standing as a force to be reckoned with in the new millennium's first decade.

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